I’ve written elsewhere about being a member of English Scholars Beyond Borders, and their third Annual Conference will be held in Tauching, Taiwan May 19 to 22. While I unfortunately had to miss their second conference in India last year, I’m happy to say I’ve committed to the trip this coming May. There’s going to be an interesting line up of journal editors giving Keynote presentations, which I’m particularly looking forward to.
The abstract submission deadline is February 15, so if you’re interested in a friendly, collegial conference with some really top notch scholarship to be presented, I would recommend you consider attending or submitting a presentation proposal. Also, please let me know in the comments if you’re going.
The next weekend after the annual ESBB conference will see me in Korea for the KOTESOL National Conference. I wrote a little about what I’ll be doing there here.
This is part 2 of my Becoming Superman story. If you haven’t read it yet, part 1 is here.
So I flew through the air briefly then hit the sidewalk and slid. A truck driver stopped to ask if I was OK, and the lady who was waiting to cross the road rushed over to ask the same question. I stood up, and while I was bruised, I decided that I was OK, after all, and so I picked up my scooter, realized the front tire had gone flat, and pushed it the rest of the way home and parked it in our storage room. I took the train to Nakano where my wife was working and she decided that I didn’t need to see a doctor, and so then I took the long train ride home.
At the time I wasn’t enrolled in Japan’s national health insurance, and so we were worried about the cost of seeing one, and since I could walk Yuki thought I should be fine. The memory of the uncertainty about whether we could afford the doctor’s fees is one reason why I’m reluctant to move to a country where there isn’t a national insurance system even today. That was also the first time in my life when my wife refused to give me a hug, as we met at the hospital, and I felt I really needed one after my crash, but that’s perhaps another story for another day.
I didn’t touch the scooter again for the rest of the winter.
Once spring came, I started to think about the scooter again, and to think that it was a waste to just leave it in the storage room, so once the weather warmed in April I took it out of storage to figure out what the problem was with it. I filled it with air and hear a gentle hissing sound, and so filled a bucket with water and rotated the tire around but didn’t find any leaks. Then I put some water over the tire valve and bubbles started leaking out at a really frantic pace. I inspected the valve and concluded that the core was loose, so I got out my tire core tool and tightened it, and the leak stopped.
My best guess as to what happened was that the motorcycle shop worker opened the valve core to change the tire, but after he put the new tire on, he didn’t tighten the core enough to close it, and so when I stopped to eat, all of the air left the tire while I was in the restaurant. When I came out of the restaurant, I thought the handling was funny because it was funny; the tire was flat, but I didn’t think that my new tires would go flat in the time it took for me to eat something, and so didn’t even think about that as a possibility.
Regarding my accident, I was really lucky for several reasons. One is that it was winter, and so I was wearing my Carhartt coveralls, which meant my skin was bruised and a bit scratched, but it wasn’t anything major.
The other is that I was wearing a helmet with a full face shield, and so when I hit the ground, the face shield dragged across the road instead of the skin of my face, saving me from having been hurt a lot worse.
My experience is something I remember every time I see a university student riding their motorcycle or scooter with a small bucket helmet with no face cover and too often the strap unbuckled. If I had been doing that when I crashed, I might not still be around today.
I moved to Japan to live in Nagano in October 2000 and at first my only transportation was a bicycle I bought shortly after arriving. However, in the spring of 2002 one of my students graduated from university and got a job in Tokyo, and so was looking to sell his scooter that he had used when he was a student. I asked him why he wasn’t going to take it with him to Tokyo and he said it was too expensive and the scooter wasn’t worth that much money. He asked if I was interested in buying it, and when I asked him how much he was selling it for, he said, 20,000 yen, which I thought was quite reasonable and so I ended up buying it.
We went to the motorcycle shop he had bought it from to change the ownership registration to my name, and then I started driving it around Nagano. Before long, I was using the scooter to drive back and forth to my classes, although eventually December came and I realized that snow was going to be an issue as far as transportation with the scooter was concerned.
Not wanting to spend the money to buy a car, I started asking around about what my different options were, as by now the scooter was an important part of my ability to get back and forth to work. Someone eventually suggested I change the tires to snow tires. I asked if there really were such things for scooters and was assured that yes, indeed there were.
So I went back to the motorcycle shop that had changed the title for me and asked if they had snow tires for scooters there. The man working there was really advanced in years and replied that yes, yes they did have snow tires. I asked if I could buy them that same day or not, and he said that yes I could, and so I asked how much they were and when I should come back. He said it would take 90 minutes to change the tires on my scooter.
I spent the next 90 minutes walking around downtown Nagano, up to Zenkoji Temple and back again, and then stopped in at the shop. My scooter was up on their service stand with back tire off. The old guy working there says, “Come back later! Come back later!” I ask how long should I wait, and he says 90 minutes.
By now it’s lunch time, so I head somewhere for lunch then kill another hour or so wandering around. When I get back into the shop, this time the back tire is on but the front tire is off, and he says, “Come back later! Come back later!” I ask how long again and this time he says an hour. And so I kill another hour of time.
After this last hour, when I get back into the shop the guy is furiously tightening the bolt on the front tire and says, “I’m almost done! Please wait.” Once he finishes, we settle the bill and then I get my scooter to drive back home.
All of my walking has made me hungry, and so I decide to stop on the way home for a small snack. After I finish, when I get back on my scooter I think the handling is a little strange, but figure I just bought the snow tires, and so perhaps the handling is a bit different with the snow tires on it.
I start on my way home, and as I’m approaching a crosswalk I see a lady waiting to cross the street. I make it a point to stop for people in crosswalks, so I hit my brake, and the front end of my scooter collapses out from under me and I go over the handlebars, striking a Superman pose for a brief moment before hitting the pavement.
The question I ask my students at this point in the story is what happened that caused the front end of my scooter to collapse and me to become a very short-lived Superman? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Want to know what happened? Part 2 of the story is here.
If you haven’t yet read part 1 and part 2 of this story, I would recommend you start there.
There didn’t used to be a part 3 to this story, but when I took my current position at the University of Toyama, I had to change doctors, from my pulmonologist in Nagano to a pulmonologist in Toyama. I asked my Nagano doctor to write a referral letter for me and presented it at the University of Toyama Hospital, and was soon assigned a pulmonologist who took over the management of my asthma medicine. After seeing him a few times, he said that my recommendation letter mentioned high cholesterol, but that his speciality is pulmonology, and so rather than try to manage my cholesterol, he wanted to refer me to a lipid specialist.
I reluctantly agreed, and the lipid specialist first wanted to do another blood test to check my cholesterol levels. I went in and had the test done, and when I met the lipid specialist, he said that yes, my cholesterol levels were high, which made feel rather upset, but then he asked if I had eaten breakfast the morning that I had my blood test done. I replied that of course I had eaten breakfast. I eat breakfast every day. It’s supposed to be healthy. He said that the cholesterol levels should be a person’s fasting cholesterol, not their cholesterol after they’ve eaten, and so he asked me to have the blood check done again.
At our next appointment, he checked my fasting cholesterol levels and said they were borderline high, but not so high that I would need to take medicine, and recommended that I keep trying to eat healthy and exercise.
So in the end, after I finally saw a lipid specialist, the final verdict was that my cholesterol wasn’t that high after all. The problem was instead that no one had told me I shouldn’t eat breakfast on the day my cholesterol levels are checked until I finally met the lipid specialist.
I wonder what the message of this story is? That specialists should stay within their field of speciality when treating patients, as my pulmonologist in Nagano never mentioned seeing another doctor about my cholesterol, while my pulmonologist in Toyama said it wasn’t his speciality and so he didn’t want to try to treat it? That very simple miscommunications, such as the directions to not eat breakfast in the morning can have a huge influence on test results? I think that certainly doctors and pharmacists should explain the potential side effects of the drugs they prescribe and dispense, especially considering my experience.
Overall, I’m glad my first pulmonologist in Nagano pushed me to do exercise. Cycling has been an overall boon to my health, although I certainly could have done without the episode of drug side effects that I experienced. My guess is that my cholesterol really was very high around the time that he first checked it, but I ate breakfast every time he checked my cholesterol, so I’ll never really know what the numbers should have been.
If you’re interested in the topic of the treatment of high cholesterol, the US recently overhauled their guidelines. There’s a really engaging explanation of the new guidelines and their implications for treatment on the UCTV website presented by Dr. Robert Baron, UCSF Professor of Medicine.
So on Saturday when I woke up and sat up in bed, I felt really tired. I thought that was strange, since I hadn’t drank the night before and had gotten a full night of sleep. I wondered if I was maybe getting a cold. My wife was still sleeping, so I decided I would go downstairs and get some breakfast while I waited for her to wake up.
However, when I got to the stairs of our house and looked down them, I felt like my legs weren’t going to be steady enough for me to walk down the steps, and our staircase didn’t have a railing, so I turned around and crawled down the steps like a baby.
When I got to the bottom of the steps, I was out of breath, and I sat on the steps and recovered before I stood up to walk to the kitchen. On the way to the kitchen, though, I felt tired again and ended up sitting down in my computer chair to catch my breath again. While I was sitting there, I was thinking about how the previous weekend I had cycled about a hundred kilometers into the mountains, but that day I couldn’t even walk down the stairs. I remembered that my father had some trouble with his cholesterol medicine in the past, and he’s an oral surgeon, so might know something about what was going on. Since I was at my computer anyway, I gave him a call on Skype.
I explained how I had started this new cholesterol medicine, and that I was feeling really tired and my muscles were all sore. He asked what the name of the medicine was and I told him it was Crestor. He got really angry and said, “One of the side effects of that medicine is muscle degeneration. Stop it right away!”
So I stopped taking the medicine and went back to see my doctor on Monday, and the blood test confirmed that I was, indeed, suffering from the side effect of muscle degeneration. My muscles were so sore that I couldn’t ride my bicycle again until a month after I stopped the medicine.
However, none of the people I talked to on the day I got my medicine, not my doctor, nor the nurse, nor the pharmacist told me about the side effects of the medicine or any particular symptoms that I should watch out for, even though I specifically told my pharmacist that it was my first time to take the medicine and I asked if there were any specific instructions that they had for me.
In rare cases, Crestor can cause a condition that results in the breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue, leading to kidney failure. Call your doctor right away if you have unexplained muscle pain, tenderness, or weakness especially if you also have fever, unusual tiredness, and dark colored urine.
I’ve since read that this particular severe side effect is only experienced in 1 / 10,000 patients, although in my experience its been 4 / 4 of the people I know who have taken this medicine; me, my father, one of my aunts (my father’s sister), and my grandmother, which makes for 100%. Unfortunately, I had known my father had a bad reaction to his cholesterol medicine, but my doctor never asked me about my father’s experience of taking cholesterol medicine; he only asked me if my father had type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
Should it be my responsibility to look up the side effects of the medicines I’m prescribed or should the doctors and pharmacists who prescribe and dispense these medicines talk about their side effects with their patients? These are the questions I raise with my students when I tell this story in class. I also tell them that I was really lucky I have a doctor father who I could call when I experienced the side effect, and I ask them how many of their patients in the future are going to be in the same lucky position where they can call a doctor relative when something unexpected happens with one of their medicines. My next regular appointment with my doctor was one month later. I hate to think what would have happened if I had waited the full month to go see him again.
The story used to end here, but after I moved to Toyama there was a part 3 added. You can read this newest part of the story here.
This is part 2 of a simplified version of my Ramen Story for my students. You can read part 1 here or the full story instead if you prefer.
A scream comes from the kitchen, “It’s on fire! It’s on fire!” so I jump up and run into the kitchen.
I find the microwave on and inside, slowly spinning under the lamp, is the ramen cup, bubbling, melting, and smoking. I pushed stop, got the oven mittens, opened the microwave, blew out the last of the fire, put the melted cup in the sink, and turned on the water.
I asked my sister, “Why didn’t you push stop?”
Crying, she replied, “I don’t know!”
So why did the ramen cup melt and burn? Well, in the US we didn’t have a hot water faucet, or a hot water server like many places do in Japan, and so when we made ramen, we would add cold water to the cup and then microwave it for three minutes, but Angela hadn’t added any water to the cup. She just put it in the microwave, empty, and that caused it to melt and smoke.
In the end, I had to make my sister a cup of ramen and so I missed about five minutes of my cartoons. I can’t remember if my parents woke up and whether we got in trouble or not.
This is part 1 of a simplified version of my Ramen Story for my students. You can read the full story instead if you prefer.
When I was very young, about three years old, my family and I moved to Germany to live for about three years, and while there I couldn’t watch American cartoons because they weren’t on German TV. That meant that when my family and I moved back to the US, one of the things I quickly learned about was that on Saturday mornings there were cartoons, from about 6am until about noon, and since my parents usually slept in on Saturday morning, there wasn’t anyone to tell me to stop watching TV and to do my homework, so I always looked forward to Saturday mornings and my cartoon watching time.
I have two younger sisters, Angela and Mary. My youngest sister, Mary, would wake up with me and I would make some simple breakfast for us, like cereal, and then we would watch cartoons together. However, my middle sister, Angela, liked to sleep in, and I think even today she still likes to sleep in. This meant that she would come downstairs later, after Mary and I had already finished eating. This story is about one of those Saturdays.
I think I was in the second grade, about seven or eight years old, and so Angela would have been five or six and Mary four or five.
Angela woke up late, as usual, and came downstairs hungry. She came into the living room, up next to the couch where Mary and I were watching TV, and said, “Theron, I’m hungry.”
Me, “I see.”
“I want to eat something.”
“I want to eat ramen.”
“I want you to cook me ramen.”
“You can make your own ramen.”
“I don’t know how.”
“There’s instructions. Read the instructions.”
“I can’t read.”
“There’s pictures. Look at the pictures.”
“Oh.” After this, Angela went into the kitchen and I kept watching television.
About two or three minutes later, Angela came back and asked, “How long do I cook the ramen?”
My reply was “Three minutes.”
Two minutes later a scream comes from the kitchen, “Theron! Theron! It’s on fire! It’s on fire!”
I’ve had asthma since I was a child, and so when I moved to Japan in 2000, I needed to make some special arrangements to get my asthma medicine. For a few years, my doctor in the US would write a prescription for me, then my pharmacy in the US would mail the medicine to me in Japan. However, after some time, I realized that my condition was worsening and that I needed to have my medicine adjusted. It was too expensive to travel back to the US to change my asthma medicine, but fortunately my wife is a nurse, and so she knew a number of different doctors where we lived in Nagano. She recommended a pulmonologist to me and so I started seeing my new doctor in Japan. He adjusted my asthma medicine and my condition improved.
After about a year of seeing my new doctor, my condition had stabilized as far as my asthma was concerned, and he decided he wanted to check my cholesterol. He scheduled the blood test and the results came back: amazingly high. So high, in fact, that they couldn’t distinguish between the LDL and HDL cholesterol, which I’m told happens with numbers higher than 500. He was pretty upset and told me I had to change my lifestyle.
Up until that point, I had been driving a 50cc scooter to my various English lessons around Nagano City, and I resolved to switch from driving my scooter to riding my bicycle. That switch meant I started cycling 20km or more each day to and from work. Six months later my doctor said he wanted to check my cholesterol again, and when he did, the levels came back almost half of what they had been. He said that was a good start, but that I needed to keep working to reduce them.
Up until that point, I had mainly been cycling within Nagano City, which is relatively flat, and so I decided that to get more exercise I would start cycling up into the mountains that surround Nagano. At first it was really tough going, and I would cycle for just a little bit before giving up and turning around, but eventually I became able to cycle quite long distances into the mountains.
A year later my doctor scheduled another cholesterol check for a Wednesday morning. The weekend before my check I planned a long ride through the mountains, from Nagano, up to Togakushi, from there to Kinasa and then finally over a pass into Hakuba. It was about a 100km trip, and the change in overall elevation was likely close to if not more than one kilometer of vertical climbing. At the end of the ride I was tired, but I was also proud that I had been able to do it.
My Wednesday appointment came and my blood results came back that my cholesterol was still a bit high. I forget the exact number, but it was in the low 200s. My doctor said that since my cholesterol was still a bit high, he wanted me to take some medicine for it. He wrote out the prescription and then I took it to the hospital pharmacy, who gave me the new medicine. I said it was my first time to take the cholesterol medicine and so wanted to know a bit more about it. Their reply was to take it once a day.
So I did. I took the medicine that night, Thursday night, and Friday night. Then on Saturday morning something happened.
This is the end of Part 1 of this story. Here’s Part 2. Before you read it, why don’t you try to guess the ending to my story in the comments?
After 15 years in the language teaching classroom, I think it’s safe to say I’m experienced at what I do, and I’ve seen quite a few teaching techniques and strategies rise and fall in popularity. When I first started doing my MA in the early 2000s, task-based language teaching was all the rage, and I hitched a ride on that rising star, eventually winning a scholarship to present some of my research at IATEFL in 2009 in Cardiff. Another trend that I became briefly interested in was extensive writing, specifically free writing, and I’ve published twoarticles on that topic now, but as a classroom technique, with my students, I found it to be less than satisfactory, and so have stopped including it as a regular feature of my classroom. Thanks to fellow English Scholars Beyond Borders (ESBB) member John Unger, something that caught my attention relatively recently, which I began tentatively exploring in my classrooms in 2014, and which is an integral part of my language classroom today, is student created videos.
If you’re interested in John’s article on the subject, published in the inaugural ESBB journal, I would recommend you read it for yourself. One of the innovations of ESBB is that members are asked to non-anonymously review one anothers’ contributions to the group’s publication. This is partly an acknowledgement of the shortcomings of traditional implementations of peer review and also an experiment in supportive critical reviewing rather than the kind of negative ‘this paper has no merits’ reviewing that academic authors often complain about. My favorite term from the literature for this is ‘pit-bull reviewing’ of which there is an entire academic article on the topic.
Inspiration for using videos in my classroom (again)
But I digress. I was asked to review John’s paper and I agreed to the responsibility, but as I’m working through my PhD part-time right now know, I felt a bit of trepidation about it, because I’ve always got PhD work pending which requires my time and attention (something I’ve been conscious of as I’ve worked on this blog post as well). Thankfully, reviewing John’s paper proved to be a pleasant and intellectually stimulating exercise.
I won’t go into the details here, but I was struck by how he was able to engage with and use the vocabulary of the social constructivists generally and the field of semiotics more specficially in explaining and justifying the activities he was doing in the classroom, which involved having students prepare sections of language on posters and then using that language to explain their ideas, with his research examining how those students utilize and manipulate blocks of language in the process of trying to communicate their feelings and beliefs. He elegantly links the skills they are practicing in their videos to the academic skills his class is expected to be fostering, and shares how what they are doing has relevance to their potential future academic studies where they are going to be expected to use source citations in formulating arguments in their writing.
I’ll ask John’s forgiveness now if I’ve misremembered or misconstrued something that he wrote; I did my review nearly a year ago, and so the details are a bit fuzzy and not as important to me as the insight I took away from his paper, which was that his students never appeared in front of the camera. They were always videoing something they had created, and their voices were part of the video, as was a pointer that they used to signal emphasis, but the students themselves were outside of the camera frame. This was the big insight for me; because I had always previously had my students in front of the camera, and that brought with it all the awkwardness and embarrassment that being onstage involves, and that awkwardness was why I had previously given up on using cameras as part of my language classroom.
But John’s classroom and mine are quite different, and I wasn’t starting with a blank slate in terms of implementing the creation of videos in my classes. I already have two activities I use regularly and which I am relatively happy with, but I was looking to expand those into something more.
From inspiration to implementation: An example of how I use videos in my classroom
This blog post has already gotten longer than I had first anticipated, so I’m only going to discuss one of the activities here. I’ll add a link once I’ve created a post for the other topic.
The first of the activities, split stories, I’ve blogged about before. These are an inspiration I got from Tim Murphey and involve telling the beginning of a story, stopping at the climax, getting students to think about the conclusion, and then finally sharing the ending. My favorite way to do this is to share the beginning of the story at the end of class, and then the next week share the conclusion to the story at the start of class. I find it’s a good way to get students to remember something from class one week to the next, and it gives them something to look forward to early on in the lesson.
The language learning aspects of the activity are that, after the telling of part 1, I ask my students to write part 1 and to guess the ending of the story, or to answer a question I pose about the ending to the story. If you’re interested in an example of a part 1 story, the Canadian Patient is one. I’m working on others, but am slower in getting them online than I would like. I collect students’ writing, check it, and after the telling of part 2, ask them to write part 2 as well, along with their thoughts about the story. The fancy word for this is multimodal; they are hearing a story and then writing it down, and so they are switching from the spoken input mode to the written output mode.
I’ve been doing this activity for three years or so now, and I rather enjoy it, but I felt there was a bit of potential lost; the students would write the stories, I would check their writing, and we would move on with the class. I was looking for a way to give them a bit more ownership over the stories, and I also wanted to get them to manipulate the language a bit more. John’s research gave me a seed from which to grow a more interactive means of having students interact with the stories.
Now, after they’ve written their part 1 and part 2 summaries, I ask them to write scripts for the stories, so they are going from a narrative format (my telling) to a dialogic format (the characters in the story interacting). After I check the story scripts, students create backgrounds and props, and finally video their representation of the story. If you’re interested in what this looks like, then visit my Ramen story blog post, and next watch my students’ video representation of the story below. (Sincere apologies to my sister, who is an entirely fictional creation, except when she isn’t.)
A student group video adaptation of the Ramen story
Going from my stories to students’ stories
This activity can flow into students creating their own split stories, which they can then develop into videos of their own. One of my favorite from the semester just passed is that of a student’s lost turtle. The Part 1 and Part 2 videos have been included below.
An example student’s split story, part 1
An example student’s split story, part 2
Challenges with the video making
My students have been rather happy with the use of these videos, and I feel they’ve added an excellent extra dimension to the split storytelling I’ve been doing in class. There are some concerns I have regarding their implementation, though. I’ve included a few of them here, along with solutions I’ve either implemented or an considering implementing.
Getting all the students involved
I’ve been asking students to write the stories and scripts in groups, but I’ve realized that there are some students who aren’t doing anything at certain stages in the lesson. My solution was to realize that not all stories need to be developed into scripts, and that not all scripts need to be developed into videos. Thus I can ask every student to write part 1 of the story, for two students to collaborate together to develop a script, and then for four students to select a script to prepare to be videoed. There are still students who don’t engage or participate, but they are easier to distinguish, as their initial stories are blank. How to engage them is a topic for another time.
The videoing itself
When I started using videos, I was having students use their smartphones, but I had a real challenge getting the images from their phones to somewhere where I could see them myself (without keeping their cell phones). I solved this problem by ordering six digital cameras with SD cards, so the equipment is all mine now. I would like to order another two cameras, as there are times when access to a camera is a bit of a bottleneck in my classroom. I’m lucky I had the resources to order this equipment through my university rather than having to pay for it myself, but if teachers are working part-time or don’t have access to sufficient institutional funding, then this could certainly be an issue for them.
Time spent outside of language work
Preparing the props for the videos takes time, and while students generally seem to enjoy this time, it’s also time spent away from concentrating on English. Some have noted this in their feedback as a concern from their perspective, and it’s something I’ve been conscious of myself. One thing I’ve done to address this is that I’ve saved some of the props from the previous semester with the intention of recycling them in the coming semester. My worry is that doing this is going to take some of the ownership of the videos away from the students. Watch this space and I’ll try to add an update about how well this ends up working out.
Feedback on the videos
Right now I post the videos to a forum in the class Moodle and ask students to watch the videos and to make a comment on them, but the comments to date tend to be quite superficial. I need a better means of encouraging students to give more meaningful feedback to their peers, and I also need to be more on top of the video projects myself; this semester just past I didn’t make the time to watch many of the videos until after the semester had finished, which was unfortunate. I don’t really want a rubric to mark the videos, but I think some honest feedback about their quality would help the students to improve their production quality as the semester progresses.
I want to thank John for the original inspiration and for the request that I write about my own experience of adapting his idea to my classroom. I hope to expand on this topic in future posts, but will end here for now. Any questions or comments? Please feel free to add them here, along with explanations of whether you use student generate videos in your classroom, how, and why.